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Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay Dominate Nursery Shipments

by Kerana Todorov
January 31, 2019

California’s bulk wine inventories have been increasing and prices have been easing while the size of of the 2018 harvest may reach 4.4 million tons.

“Change is here,” Glenn Proctor, partner at Ciatti, said Wednesday during the State of the Industry session at Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento. “The market is adjusting to the new paradigm.”

But what are the projections for future crops?

Nurseries sold 22 million vines in 2018 – the most since 2014, Jeff Bitter, president of Allied Grape Growers, said Wednesday. The sales are driven largely by wineries wanting to plant vineyards, said Bitter, who spoke right after Proctor.

Overall, there is a huge preference toward planting red grapes over white grapes in California, Bitter said. The vines sold in 2018 were 69 percent red and 31 percent white varieties.

The top three varieties of vines sold were Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Cabernet Sauvignon accounted for 30.6 percent of all plantings, Pinot Noir, 25.6 percent and Chardonnay, 18.9 percent, Bitter said.

Sauvignon Blanc has gained popularity. Twice as many Sauvignon Blanc vines were planted in 2018 than in 2016 and 2017, according to the survey. The estimated bearing acreage of Sauvignon Blanc in the Northern Interior is projected to grow by 36 percent between 2018 and 2021, according to the survey of vine sales from the state’s biggest nurseries.

Calfiornia’s bearing winegrape acreage has not grown as much as it has in the past few years. California’s overall winegrape bearing acreage is projected to grow by only 0.5 percent between 2018 and 2021, Bitter said. “That’s good for us, right?” Bitter said. The market can’t absorb an additional 15,000 acres a year bearing production at this point, he said. “This is good news.”

However, planting activities vary from region to region. Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir continued to expand their footprint in Coastal California, which includes Napa and Sonoma, to produce wine in the $10 to $20 a bottle price range, according to the survey.

“This is our target. This is what we need to sell,” Bitter said, referring to the projected crops. The overall winegrape bearing acreage is anticipated to grow by 6 percent by 2021, according to the survey. “This is a pretty good increase. This is where the growth is happening in California,” Bitter said.

Two thirds of the winegrape bearing acres by 2021 will be planted in Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, he said. “So we’ve talked about chocolate, strawberry and vanilla in the past in the winery business in terms of the varieties they have to offer, here they are” he said.

Proctor said there are 6.2 million gallons of bulk Cabernet Sauvignon on the market, including 4 million from the Coastal area. Napa has 600,000 gallons of bulk Cabernet Sauvignon, Proctor said. Prices have moved down rather quickly, he said. There has been some demand for bulk wine from Napa, Proctor said, but he said sellers seldom take the offers. Sellers need to adjust to the new prices, he said.

Estimated winegrape bearing acres are estimated to grow by 2 percent in the Northern Interior which includes Lodi and Delta areas; it is also expected to shrink by 6 percent in the Central Valley.

Nurseries reported the vine sales’ top variety statewide was Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

There are 17,000-plus acres of non-bearing Cabernet Sauvignon vines – or 14 percent of all acres planted in Cabernet Sauvignon as of 2018; there are also more than 10,000 acres of non-bearing Pinot noir vines - 16 percent of all Pinot Noir acreage. In addition, there are 1,000 acres of non-bearing Chardonnay vines – or 9 percent of the total Chardonnay acreage, according to the survey.

“I think this is kind of consistent with what we've seen in the past couple of years and the trends we see in the marketplace,” Bitter said. “Something is driving this demand,” he said. But “is the market going to develop around the existence of these varieties? Are we going to be able to move this supply in the system in the near future?”

Bitter urged the audience to make adjustments and not to lose perspective. The wine industry, he stressed, is “very stable.”

The three-day Unified Wine & Grape Symposium ends today.


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